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Innovator Route Endorsing Bodies: June 2019 Update

Article published (or last modified) on 03 June 2019

This blog has been updated to meet Home Office changes as of 1st June 2019, per the gov.uk list of Innovator route Endorsing Bodies.

As we outlined in our previous blog post, both the Innovator and Start-up immigration routes are now active, with several endorsing bodies listed as ready to provide their endorsement to applicants. These new immigration routes are designed to allow individuals to come to the UK to start a business. In order to do so, all applicants have to obtain endorsement from an endorsing body, of which there are currently 26 authorised on the gov.uk list for the Innovator route.

Here at White Rose Visas we have attempted to contact all listed endorsing bodies to find out further information on what businesses they are looking for and how applications for endorsement are made. We have also enquired as to when applicants will be able to apply to each endorsing body.

Endorsing Bodies Now Open to Applications

Even though the Innovator route launched at the end of March, our research has shown that not all of the endorsing bodies are currently accepting applications for endorsement. The following bodies are now open to applications for those that meet the following criteria:

Bethnal Green Ventures: Bethnal Green Ventures are an early-stage investor in ventures that use technology to change people’s lives for the better. This is known as their Tech for Good programme. They have confirmed that they will only endorse people who have successfully applied for their investment and support, meaning applicants need to apply and succeed through their accelerator programme to receive endorsement from them. Applications for their Autumn programme are open now and will close on June 18th.

Deep Science Ventures: Deep Science Ventures help to build science-based companies in specific high-value markets. The markets they are interested in are currently shown on their opportunities page. We were informed that applicants should apply through this page, completing the application to the specific sector they would like to start a business in. Applicants will receive an initial indication within 2 weeks and, if this is successful, a final decision following a 4-week trial period or due diligence. DSV also told us that they do not charge successful applicants; the Home Office have recently confirmed that none of the endorsing bodies will be able to charge for services relating to endorsement. They will however be able to charge for other services they provide, as long as this is the same charge that would apply to resident workers provided with the same service.

Founders Factory: Founders Factory is an award-winning tech start-up accelerator and incubator. They will only endorse entrepreneurs joining one of their programmes. They offer both an Incubator and an Accelerator program and have assisted start-ups in the AI, Beauty, Education, FinTech, Media, Retail and Travel sectors.

Ignite: Ignite are located in the North East of England and look to invest in primarily tech-enabled businesses in cities across the UK. They will only endorse applicants who have been successful through their accelerator programs, meaning you must receive funding and support from them before they will issue an endorsing letter for an Innovator visa. They have recently opened applications for their pre-accelerator programme, for companies based or willing to relocate to the North East of England, but will not be able to provide the endorsing letter until places on the programme have been offered later in the year. The application deadline for Ignite’s current pre-accelerator is 28th June 2019.

Kollider: Kollider is a high-growth business incubator. They are looking to endorse people with innovative ideas in the creative, digital and tech sectors, who are expected to scale in their markets within 24 months. Kollider currently have an enquiry form online for those looking to apply for a Start-Up or Innovator visa. They will respond to enquiry submissions within 28 days, though at the moment the form appears to be designed more for people who’ve already done a lot of work towards starting their business, rather than those who only have a start-up business idea.

MedCity: MedCity will be looking to endorse businesses in the life sciences sector in the region of London and the Greater South East of England. According to a post on their website this sector includes biopharmaceuticals/therapeutics, medical devices, diagnostics, digital health and certain types of AI. MedCity require a business plan (which will typically be expected by all endorsing bodies to detail an applicant’s proposed business) and, if possible, a sales presentation, after which they will interview the applicant. This can be done on the phone or via Skype. Based on this interview and the information provided they will decide whether or not to endorse the applicant. MedCity will not provide any funding to applicants and will not take any equity stake.

Simon Magava and Lauren Appleby, photo by White Rose Visas

Natwest Entrepreneur Accelerator, Royal Bank of Scotland Entrepreneur Accelerator and Ulster Bank Entrepreneur Accelerator: These accelerators are all ultimately owned by The Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS Group). In order to achieve endorsement for the Innovator route, applicants will have to succeed through one of the accelerator schemes. If they succeed in obtaining support and funding through one of these schemes, they will then be provided with an endorsing letter. These schemes don’t look for businesses in particular sectors, but do provide an additional Fintech Accelerator for businesses working in financial technology.

Seed Camp: Seed Camp is a European seed fund who invest early in businesses looking to penetrate large, global markets and solve real-world problems using technology. As stated on their FAQs page, they will only be responding to visa enquiries if investment has been received from the company. This means that applicants will have to receive funding from Seed Camp in order to receive an endorsing letter from them.

SETsquared (Bristol): SETsquared is an incubator and enterprise partnership between the UK universities of Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Southampton and Surrey. Several branches were originally listed, but the Home Office have since removed all of them except for SETsquared Bristol. They will only be endorsing technology start-ups that meet the criteria to their incubator. They will also only endorse applicants who plan to establish an office in Bristol.

Zinc: Zinc work to build new tech companies that solve tough social issues in the developed world. They do this through their ‘mission’ programmes. They anticipate being able to endorse applicants for a visa if they become Founders through their Mission 3 programme. This mission is a 9-month full-time programme for entrepreneurs looking to build a business which will improve the quality of those in later life. If applicants succeed in becoming a Mission 3 Founder, it appears they will also receive endorsement from Zinc for their Innovator visa. It is presumed that achieving endorsement from Zinc will continue like this in the future as they announce new missions.

Endorsing Bodies with a Start Date for Applications

The above section lists all the endorsing bodies open to applications at the time of publishing (April 30th 2019). The following bodies are not yet open to applications, but have provided a start date from which they will begin to endorse innovators:

Invest Northern Ireland: Invest Northern Ireland invest in new and existing businesses in Northern Ireland. They’ve stated that they are open now to endorsement, but will only do so for those already working with them, or those participating in their accelerator programme. White Rose Visas was provided with this link in regards to their accelerator programme, and were informed that applications are expected to open again in September/October 2019. This means that whilst they are technically open to applications right now, it is only for a select few who have an existing relationship with Invest NI, and all other applicants will need to wait until the accelerator programme opens.

MDRLab: MDRLab is an accelerator for tech start-ups in the legal space. They have confirmed they will only be endorsing people accepted onto their 10-week May-July programme. As seen by their website, the application process for this year’s programme closed in February 2019; we presume that they will be able to endorse applicants on this programme in the future, and therefore potential endorsement could be obtained from them in January 2020.

Royal Society Edinburgh: The RSE will only be endorsing applicants who achieve the RSE Enterprise Fellowship. This fellowship is designed for Higher Education graduates, researchers or staff to launch their innovative new business ideas and supports companies in many different sectors with funding and training support. If applicants receive this fellowship, they will be granted endorsement for their Innovator visa from RSE. Applications are not currently open, but the next deadline will be in Autumn 2019.

Business Meeting, photo by Thomas Drouault on Unsplash

Scottish Edge: Scottish Edge is a bi-annual competition with the aim of finding and supporting Scotland’s entrepreneurial talent. We contacted them directly and they informed us that they would only be endorsing people who have won an award through their competition. They will not be actively seeking businesses to endorse outside of the competition, with some reports suggesting they have only requested 4 allocations as opposed to the 25 endorsing bodies have access to at this stage. The employee we spoke to also expressed uncertainty as to whether Scottish Edge would remain a listed endorsing body in the future. Round 15 of the Scottish Edge competition will open in July 2019.

Techstars: Techstars is a worldwide network that runs two accelerator programs in London (Techstars London and Barclays Accelerator). We have approached Techstars for comment, but are yet to receive a response to our enquiry. As these accelerators are listed on the gov.uk list, we assume that Techstars will only endorse those successful through these accelerator programmes. Applications for Techstars London are currently closed, but will likely open again in January 2020. It is unclear when applications for the Barclays Accelerator will reopen.

Tech Nation: Tech Nation work with tech entrepreneurs and the UK’s digital sector. They have also previously worked with the Home Office through the Exceptional Talent route, so are more familiar with visa applications compared with some of the other endorsing bodies. They will begin processing endorsement applications in September 2019 and will update this webpage with further information.

What about the other Endorsing Bodies?

We have attempted to contact all the other endorsing bodies for comment. In these cases, we have either not received responses from them or have had inconclusive replies regarding their involvement in the visa:

The Bakery: The Bakery are an accelerator with several programmes who invest in innovators and those with new technologies at every stage. We attempted to contact The Bakery on two separate occasions and have yet to receive a response to our enquiry. Other articles have suggested that they are still weighing up their process for issuing endorsements, meaning that they are not currently open to applications.

Capital Enterprise: Capital Enterprise work to connect and scale businesses based in London. For the time being they will only endorse people they have an existing relationship with as they are working out how to open up their endorsement process. This is a similar situation to Invest Northern Ireland, except that Capital Enterprise are unsure what process they will use to endorse other applicants at present. They have provided this web address on the gov.uk list and stated that it will change with time.

Cylon: Cylon find, grow and invest in the world’s best emerging cyber businesses. We have contacted Cylon but have not received any response from them in regards to their involvement in the Innovator visa.

Level39: Level39 were only recently added to the endorsing bodies list. They will only be endorsing those involved in FinTech, cyber security, smart cities, retail tech and other globally ambitious tech businesses. We have approached Level39 for comment on the process for obtaining endorsement from them, but are yet to receive a response to our enquiry.

Seed Haus: Seed Haus is a pre-seed stage investor in businesses they believe tackle real problems in large markets. They have confirmed that they will not accept any unsolicited applications for endorsement. We have not been able to contact or obtain any further response from Seed Haus on their involvement in the visa.

Kim Day with passport holder, photo by White Rose Visas

Startup Funding Club: Startup Funding Club is an award-winning angel investor looking to invest in disruptive businesses. They were recently included on the endorsing bodies list and we have reached out to them for comment on their endorsement application process. We believe it is likely that they will only be looking to endorse those who achieve investment from them, but as this is currently unconfirmed we’ve included them in this later section for now.

Tech X: Tech X is a technology accelerator involved with The Oil & Gas Technology Centre in Aberdeen, Scotland. We have contacted Tech X on two occasions and are yet to receive a response to our enquiry.

Wayra: Wayra is a start-up accelerator who work through telecommunications company Telefónica to mentor, invest in and connect new innovators and enable their growth. We have been unable to contact or obtain any response from Wayra in regards to their involvement with the Innovator route, and they haven’t yet provided any specific information on their website.

What does this mean?

This means that those looking to obtain an Innovator visa in the near future will be in for a challenge as the endorsing bodies and the route as a whole remain in an early and uncertain stage. Though some of those listed have outlined a process designed for the visa, it appears the majority of endorsing bodies will only endorse people who succeed through the accelerator programmes they already have in place.

Only some of the listed companies allow for applicants to apply for endorsement right now, with others planned to open throughout the summer months. But even though the route has been open for over two months there remains an alarming percentage of the endorsing bodies who have not published any information or provided any indication of when or how they will endorse applicants for the Innovator visa.

The list of endorsing bodies for the Start-up visa includes all of these bodies as well as several Higher Education Institutions (HEI) across the UK. The majority of HEI endorsers will only be looking to endorse graduates or alumni from their institution, meaning that those who aren’t graduates who are aiming to apply for the Start-up visa will likely need to be looking to one of the above accelerators.

We will continue to monitor the situation in regards to endorsing bodies and these new immigration routes in the upcoming months. If you have any questions regarding the Innovator or Start-up visa, or are looking to prepare an application, please contact us directly and our expert immigration advisers will be able to assist you.

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